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Towards the smart city 2.0: Empirical evidence of using smartness as a tool for tackling social challenges

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While scholars critique the first-generation of the corporate smart city for failing to deliver on social agendas and authentically respond to the needs of residents, many point to a potential to move beyond narrow environmental and economic objectives and tackle social issues. But concrete empirical evidence of this potential is visibly lacking. In parallel, researchers have brought attention to the emergence of the so-called 'smart city 2.0'. This is framed as a decentralised, people-centric approach where smart technologies are employed as tools to tackle social problems, address resident needs and foster collaborative participation. This contrasts to the techno-economic and centralised approach of the dominating first-generation 'smart city 1.0', which is primarily focused on diffusing smart technologies for corporate and economic interests. Utilising this dichotomy as an analytical framework, this paper examines Aizuwakamatsu Smart City in Fukushima, Japan to understand to demonstrate how a smart city can be framed and implemented as a tool for tackling endogenous social challenges. Findings unearth a myriad of novel approaches to utilising data and ICT to respond to resident needs, improve livelihoods and widely share smart city benefits. Yet they also point to a need to transcend polarised discourses of the smart city 1.0 verses the smart city 2.0 and appreciate the messy reality of hybrid and on-the-ground smart cities and the coexistence of contrasting yet complementary visions and approaches.
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Towards the smart city 2.0:
Empirical evidence of using smartness as a tool for
tackling social challenges
Upcoming in Technological Forecasting and Social Change
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2018.07.033
See journal website for proofed, final version.
Gregory Trencher
Tohoku University: Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Japan.
g-trencher@tohoku.ac.jp
Abstract
While scholars critique the first-generation of the corporate smart city for failing to deliver
on social agendas and authentically respond to the needs of residents, many point to a
potential to move beyond narrow environmental and economic objectives and tackle social
issues. But concrete empirical evidence of this potential is visibly lacking. In parallel,
researchers have brought attention to the emergence of the so-called ‘smart city 2.0’. This is
framed as a decentralised, people-centric approach where smart technologies are employed
as tools to tackle social problems, address resident needs and foster collaborative
participation. This contrasts to the techno-economic and centralised approach of the
dominating first-generation ‘smart city 1.0’, which is primarily focused on diffusing smart
technologies for corporate and economic interests.
Utilising this dichotomy as an analytical framework, this paper examines Aizuwakamatsu
Smart City in Fukushima, Japan to understand to demonstrate how a smart city can be
framed and implemented as a tool for tackling endogenous social challenges. Findings
unearth a myriad of novel approaches to utilising data and ICT to respond to resident
needs, improve livelihoods and widely share smart city benefits. Yet they also point to a
need to transcend polarised discourses of the smart city 1.0 verses the smart city 2.0 and
appreciate the messy reality of hybrid and on-the-ground smart cities and the co-existence
of contrasting yet complementary visions and approaches.
Key words
Smart city; ICT; needs-driven; social problems; social challenges; citizen participation;
collaborative governance
1. Introduction
The smart city paradigm is enjoying growing authority as the benchmark approach for
urban development, widely promoted by governments and corporations in industrialised
and emerging economies (Kitchin 2014; Karvonen et al. in press). However, smart city
developments are heavily critiqued for failing to deliver promises of advancing social
agendas and enriching citizen livelihoods (Viitanen and Kingston 2014; Glasmeier and
Christopherson 2015; Colding and Barthel 2017; Martin et al. in press). In particular,
numerous scholars contest that neoliberal economic interests are prevailing at the expense
of environmental and social concerns (Kitchin 2015; Hollands 2015; Cardullo and Kitchin
2018) while others denounce the top-down tendency of many smart cities to privilege the
introduction of corporation serving technologies without adequate reflection on the social
ends these serve (Glasmeier and Nebiolo 2016). The smart city is a solution looking for a
problem’ argues Hajer (in: Frearson 2016) while even think tanks with close ties to smart
city vendors concede that ‘Work on smart cities often begins with the question: what uses
can be found for cutting edge technologies?(Saunders and Baeck 2015: 19). This model of
smart urbanisation contrasts to the vastly more important task of determining what citizens
needs actually are and then selecting the technologies required to address these (McFarlane
and Söderström 2017). Thus, in many smart cities, smartness has become an end in itself
and the needs of citizens are readily pushed aside (Yigitcanlar and Lee 2014; Vanolo 2014;
de Lang and de Waal 2013). In this context, scholars are pushing for a needs-driven and
human-centred discourse (Eskelinen et al. 2015; de Lang and de Waal 2013; Carrasco-ez
et al. 2017; McFarlane and Söderström 2017; Trencher and Karvonen 2018) and
‘alternative forms of smart city that go beyond the promotion of efficiency and growth, the
control of individual and household behaviour, and the mediation of consumer culture
(Martin et al. in press).
In both pro-and critical literature, smart city scholars and policy makers often refer to ‘the’
smart citythus implying a homogenous approach and generic, off-the-shelf approaches.
This framing underplays the importance of local circumstances in shaping unique smart
city imaginaries and on-the-ground projects (Goodspeed 2015; McFarlane and Söderström
2017). Kitchin (2015) accuses critical scholars of conveniently cherry-picking atypically
techno-economic models like Songdo in Korea and Masdar in the United Arab Emirates to
dismiss the smart city’s potential to contribute to better urban livelihoods. Thus, much
smart city discourse is overly simplified, overlooking important opportunities that
information communication technologies (ICT) and big data harbour for improving citizen
livelihoods and tackling various social issues (Günter 2016). Literature suggests several
societal challenges that ICT and smart urbanisation strategies might target such as crime,
traffic, social cohesion, education and health (Goodspeed 2015; Stollmann et al. 2016;
Carrasco-Sáez et al. 2017). While the latter agenda of health and well-being in an aging
society has been explored empirically with evidence from Japan (Trencher and Karvonen
in press, 2018), scholarship assembling empirical evidence on how smart urbanisation can
be framed and implemented as a tool for tackling social challenges remains overall nascent.
Calls for an alternative smart city have also emerged in the sphere of corporations selling
smart city solutions. Big vendors like IBM and Cisco have shifted discourses from top-
down and automated managerial strategies to embrace narratives of citizen engagement
and inclusivity (Kitchin 2015; Cardullo and Kitchin 2018). While some speculate that such
rhetoric might be ‘merely lip service’ to ward off smart city critics (de Waal and Dignum
2017: 263), evidence suggests that the first generation of top-down, techno-economic smart
cities is giving way to an emerging model emphasising citizen needs and participation
(Baccarne et al. 2014; Glasmeier and Nebiolo 2016; McFarlane and Söderström 2017).
Several researchers have termed this emerging model as the smart city 2.0(Günter 2016;
Saunders and Baeck 2015; Nomura 2017a, b; Etezadzadeh 2016). Crowley et al. (2016: 7)
explain:
Until recently, a smart city referred to an idealized, technologically-driven, largely automated
city that was developed from the top-down in conjunction with large data and technology
companies. (…) As the smart cities market has continued to evolve, cities are supporting
what we call Smart Cities 2.0 strategies that put people first and stresses technology as a tool
to use predominantly in service of citizens.
Claims of an emerging smart city 2.0 offer a much-needed opportunity to consider the
potential or desired role of smartness in tackling social issues and improving urban
livelihoods. While Crowley et al. (2016) offer a snapshot of numerous smart city projects
befitting their vision of a smart city 2.0, more work is needed to 1) articulate closer the
desirable characteristics of this supposed second generation of smart cities based on
critiques of the first, and 2) demonstrate empirically how such characteristics might unfold
on the ground.
Responding to these cues, this paper examines practices in Aizuwakamatsu smart city in
Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. The overarching objective is to understand how smartness
can be used as a tool for tackling social problems and resident needs and enhancing
governance. The guiding research questions are:
l How do the fundamental characteristics of Aizuwakamatsu Smart City correspond
with those of a smart city 2.0?
l What are the visions, narratives and stakeholder expectations regarding these
attributes, and how are these integrated into specific projects?
This paper contributes to debates around human-centred smart cities and how smart
urbanisation can serve as a tool for addressing social problems, meeting resident needs and
improving wellbeing. Be examining the unique socioeconomic and geographical context of
Japan, this study simultaneously addresses a broader need for greater empirical
understanding into how alternative smart city interpretations and strategies are developing
in different geographies (Karvonen et al. in press).
The following sections develop the analytical framework for the smart city 2.0 before
explaining methodological considerations and providing background information on
Aizuwakamatsu Smart City. Findings then apply this framework to the case study while
the conclusion ties up key messages and implications.
2. Analytical framework
To build an analytical framework for understanding core features of the so-called smart city
2.0, this section reviews two sets of literature: firstly, that critiquing particular attributes of
the dominating first generation smart city paradigm (i.e. the ‘smart city 1.0’); and secondly,
that advocating or describing contrasting features with promise to address these
shortcomings and re-orient the smart city to a people-centric model aimed primarily at
addressing social challenges and citizen needs (i.e. the smart city 2.0). Summarised in
Table 1, this framework, builds on conceptions of the smart city 2.0 laid out by previous
work (Crowley et al. 2016; Saunders and Baeck 2015; Nomura 2017b; Günter 2016;
Etezadzadeh 2016). Although academic scholarship is yet to integrate explicitly the term
‘smart city 2.0’, this conception corresponds with notions of people-centred ‘second-
generation’ smart cities (March and Ribera-Fumaz in press) and ‘alternative’ smart cities
(McFarlane and Söderström 2017) moving beyond the top-down, techno-economic
objectives of first-generation counterparts. The comparative framework in Table 1 also
builds on studies systematically examining tensions and contrasting objectives within the
smart city paradigm (Martin et al. in press; March in press; Meijer and Bolívar 2016;
Kummitha and Crutzen 2017) and differing conceptions of the desirable role of the citizen
(de Waal and Dignum 2017; Cardullo and Kitchin 2018; Joss et al. 2017; Vanolo 2016).
The smart city 1.0 verses 2.0 framing does not envision these polarities as completely
separate smart cities. Rather, it depicts these as two competing narratives, tensions or
activities that might co-exist in the same city, thereby acknowledging the potential of
hybrid smart cities sharing characteristics of both types (Kummitha and Crutzen 2017;
Calzada and Cobo 2015). Capdevila and Zarlenga (2015: 266) support this
conceptualisation by pointing to Barcelona to illustrate that contrasting top-down and
bottom-up smart city approaches are complementary, with potential to reinforce the
collaboration between different city stakeholders’ and fertilise the soil for better innovation
through synergy and overlap. An alternative understanding of these two polarities is that a
smart city might begin life as a smart city 1.0 and then evolve into a smart city 2.0. March
and Ribera-Fumaz (in press) paint this possibility in their analysis of how Barcelona’s
smart city has evolved from initial techno-economic aspirations towards a more social and
human-centric agenda following a change of political leadership.
Table 1. Comparison of key attributes in the first and second smart city paradigms.
After Crowley et al. (2016) and Nomura (2017b).
Smart City 1.0
Smart City 2.0
Focus of vision
Technology and economy
People, governance and policy
Role of citizens
Passive role as sensors, end-users or
consumers
Active role as co-creators or
contributors to innovation, problem
solving and planning
Objective of
technology and
experimentation
l Optimize infrastructures and services
l Serve demand side interests and spur
new business opportunities
l Address universal technical agendas
(energy, transport, economy)
l Mitigate or solve social
challenges
l Enhance citizen wellbeing
and public services
l Address specific endogenous
problems and citizen needs
Approach
l Centralised (privileged actors)
l Exogenous development
l Decentralised (diverse actors)
l Endogenous development
2.1 Focus of vision
Smart city literature abounds with critiques of the techno-economic visions dominating
smart city projects (Kitchin 2014; Martin et al. in press; Glasmeier and Nebiolo 2016;
Kummitha and Crutzen 2017; McFarlane and Söderström 2017). In the smart city 1.0,
technology and data are framed as the most powerful and desirable drivers of progress
towards sustainability, improved quality of life and overcoming social quandaries (Martin
et al. in press). Missing, it is argued, is a focus on the experience of everyday living (Evans
et al. 2016; Karvonen et al. in press) and concrete strategies for enhancing citizen
livelihoods and democratic urban governance (Vanolo 2016; Hollands 2015). Scholars
argue that economic-focused and corporation privileging agendas risk manifesting…the
desires, images and values determined by the private sector instead of public values’
(Martin et al. in press) and an infiltration of neoliberal logic into urban governance (Kitchin
2015; Hollands 2015; Cardullo and Kitchin 2018) under the guise of mitigating social
pinches like fiscal austerity (White 2016) or enhancing the efficiency of public services and
infrastructure. Others express concerns that excessively technologically-oriented framings
of urban futures might limit the emergence of alternative imaginaries and risk undermining
human ingenuity and the social aspects of urban planning and governance (Vanolo 2016).
It is also argued that the allure and seemingly unbiased, ‘truthful’ nature of numbers in the
data-driven urban management paradigm risk propagating an overly technical
interpretation of what are in reality messy, complex and human issues (Söderström 2016;
Kitchin et al. 2015). Importantly, smart technologies per se are not critiqued. Rather, the
key issue concerns the absence of explicit links to social objectives and the public values or
purpose that smart technologies apparently serve (Glasmeier and Nebiolo 2016).
In contrast, the vision of the smart city 2.0 is focused on citizen needs and measures to
enhance effective governance and policymaking (Eskelinen et al. 2015; Cardullo and
Kitchin 2018). This starting point prompts an exploration of how smart technologies can be
used to improve the urban living experience and wellbeing of residents (Trencher and
Karvonen in press). Additionally, it is effective governance and policy rather than
technology that is framed as the principle means of bringing meaningful change towards
sustainability and overcoming social problems (McFarlane and Söderström 2017).
Technology serves as a mere enabler to this end, generating for urban decision makers
previously non-existing data from sensors embedded into the urban environment and
digitalisation of government information stockpiles (de Lang and de Waal 2013; Kitchin
2014). While this may conjure images of ‘wired cities’ and automated decision-making
systems with the human removed (Kitchin 2014), the production of big data on social or
physical conditions can provide a valuable fuel for enabling the experimentation, analysis
and reflection, and policy formulation loop advocated by urban scholars (Evans and
Karvonen 2014). In parallel, government datasets can then be opened to the public to spur
increased understanding of city conditions and drive solution creation across civic,
corporate and academic spheres (Barns 2016). This trend is driven by the notion of ‘open
government’ or ‘government 2.0’, which reflect increasing commitment to openness and
transparency (Baccarne et al. 2014). Financed by the public purse, government data sets are
framed as a public good, with latent and significant social and economic value that is only
attained once opened for public use (Eskelinen et al. 2015; Almirall et al. 2016).
2.2 Role of citizens
Despite widespread rhetoric that citizen participation is a prerequisite for achieving a smart
city, many critique the dominating corporate model’s tendency to view citizens without
agency, assigning them only passive roles as smart technology consumers or data
generators for corporations and government (Gooch et al. 2015; March and Ribera-Fumaz
2016; Viitanen and Kingston 2014; Gabrys 2014). Scholars allege that smart devices, data
collection and digitalisation of government fail to translate into empowerment strategies
and novel participatory roles for citizens in urban governance (Hollands 2015; Martin et al.
in press; Cardullo and Kitchin 2018). As Gooch et al. (2015) argue, dominating smart city
visions have ‘no place for citizens taking control of their own communities’ or
collaborating with other actors to shape policy, governance and solutions to particular
problems. Consequently, citizens have little ability to choose or shape the technologies,
services and configurations pushed onto urban environments (Saunders and Baeck 2015).
In a contrasting smart city 2.0 narrative, the citizen is framed as ‘…an innovation partner
with government’ (Crowley et al. 2016: 19). The notion of citizen participation is expanded
from a passive role of generating data or using technologies and services to an active role of
providing ideas and innovation (Gooch et al. 2015; March and Ribera-Fumaz in press; de
Waal and Dignum 2017). Innovation activities are largely decentralised, shifting from a
centralised, privileged and closed triple-helix of private, government and academic experts
to encompass non-traditional players from the citizenry (Goodspeed 2015; Capdevila and
Zarlenga 2015). Cardullo and Kitchin (2018) suggest a spectrum of roles that citizens might
play in a smart city. At the deeper and more engaged end, these range from providing
feedback on project proposals, directly proposing visions and ideas, participating in
decision making, and playing an empowered role as a co-creator.
Government data sets are framed as indispensable drivers of citizen engagement and co-
creation in the smart city 2.0 (de Lang and de Waal 2013; Gooch et al. 2015) since they can
assist more effective problem identification and solution formation in civic activities
(Kitchin 2014; Baccarne et al. 2014). Cognisant of this potential, some smart city advocates
argue that the future role of governments will shift increasingly from directly providing
public services towards providing data so as to foster the formation of innovative public
services from citizens and entrepreneurs (Almirall et al. 2016). The civic-sector led
‘hackathon’ that generates apps and novel Information Technology (IT) services from open
data sources to tackle social issues and improve citizen livelihood is increasingly becoming
the archetypical symbol of this mode of governance (Baccarne et al. 2014). Yet hackathon-
based forms of citizen engagement appeal principally to the tech-savvy and exclude the
non-IT-literate majority. There is thus a need for alternative citizen engagement and co-
creation models that do not rely on data literacy or programming skills. Some researchers
advocate citizen engagement models where digital technologies such as online reporting or
voting platforms increase the ability of citizens to shape public policy and government
projects by simply voting for ideas meriting funding (Cowley et al. 2018) or reporting
problematic conditions like road potholes (Crowley et al. 2016). However the role of
citizens in this model is still limited and not directly engaged in creative activities and
societal problem solving. This points to the importance of more inclusive models that unite
both tech-savvy and non-technical citizens with other societal actors to collaboratively
identify and frame problems and explore potential solutions. As the principle end-users or
beneficiaries of eventual solutions, citizens can play a key co-creative role by ensuring that
problem framings are legitimate from the citizen’s perspective and by ensuring that
technologies and newly generated socio-technical systems reflect their needs and
preferences (Saunders and Baeck 2015).
2.3 Objective of technology and experimentation
The bulk of technological objectives in the smart city 1.0 paradigm concern the
optimisation of public infrastructure, resources and services (Martin et al. in press; Neirotti
et al. 2014; Kong and Woods 2018). Undeniably, smart technologies can generate
important environmental and social benefits such as reduced pollution and resource
demand and lesser expenditures on services or infrastructures from management
optimisation. However prevailing approaches are critiqued for privileging the corporation
serving and top-down introduction of technologies and digitalised infrastructure without
adequate reflection on the precise societal purposes and aspirations these serve (Calzada
and Cobo 2015; Kummitha and Crutzen 2017; McFarlane and Söderström 2017; Hollands
2015; Söderström 2016). Glasmeier and Nebiolo (2016: 2) argue that ‘the unintended
consequence of smart city ‘making’ is to privilege technologies without equivalency tests
that make clear what the public values are and what the basic needs are that these values
seek to promote.’ A ‘sell solutions now and look for problems latermentality (Frearson
2016) thus permeates this type of supply-driven technology diffusion agenda. Furthermore,
many smart city projects trialling fledgling and risky technological solutions lack
profitability if confined to one location. Income is thus linked to demonstrating success in
one area and then exporting solutions to other markets. This leads to problem framings that
‘all cities face similar problems’ (Meijer and Bolívar 2016: 402) and the tackling of generic
agendas like smart grids, renewable energy and traffic control with high applicability
elsewhere. As scholars observe, large national players driving smart city rollouts tend to
look for ‘Anywhereville’, glossing over local particularities (Bulkeley et al. 2016) and
conveniently adopting cookie cutter models’ when formulating agendas (Glasmeier and
Nebiolo 2016: 7).
The starting point for technological development, experimentation and diffusion in the
alternative smart city 2.0 paradigm is the desire to mitigate or solve social challenges and
enhance citizen wellbeing and public services (Trencher and Karvonen in press, 2018;
March and Ribera-Fumaz in press). Technology merely serves as a tool to this end.
Calzada and Cobo (2015: 38) suggest a litmus test for the technological agenda of the smart
city 2.0 by asking: ‘Will these devices serve the citizens more than the citizens serve the
devices?’ Also, given that social and physical conditions and citizen needs vary highly from
city to city (Goodspeed 2015; Glasmeier and Nebiolo 2016), technological agendas require
meticulous attention to endogenous circumstances and social challenges (March in press;
McFarlane and Söderström 2017). This prompts a shift beyond top-down strategies
pushing the diffusion of pre-fabricated, one-size-fits-all solutions towards the vastly more
complex process of working with stakeholders to identify specific, localised needs through
data analysis and extensive consultation, and then selecting the right technological
apparatus for the job.
2.4 Approach
The smart city 1.0 is marked by top-down projects carried out by centralised communities
of large national or global corporate players (Hollands 2015). The ability of citizens to
shape the objectives and design of such projects is limited (Cardullo and Kitchin 2018).
Furthermore, since best solutions are deemed to lie elsewhere, experts are imported to
temporarily populate a city with novel ideas, technological solutions and analytical
capacity (Viitanen and Kingston 2014). Despite rhetoric that smart city projects primarily
serve the local economy by spurring employment and new business opportunities, this
prevailing exogenous development model is critiqued for primarily representing the
interests of highly mobile large corporations (Hollands 2008). Furthermore, by outsourcing
planning and solution creation to external players, the exogenous development paradigm
misses important opportunities to prioritise local concerns and foster a city’s internal
capacity to solve its own problems (Glasmeier and Nebiolo 2016).
The smart city 2.0 paradigm is characterised by a shift towards decentralised planning and
implementation (Calzada and Cobo 2015). Decentralisation is fuelled by several factors.
Firstly, since a broad community of actors from local government, industry, NPOs and
citizen networks engage in smart city activities, the exploitation of ICT and data analysis
moves beyond a single field of focus (e.g. energy or transport) to become a guiding ethos
for a broader portfolio of activities. A second driver is the notion of ‘ownership’. de Lang
and de Waal (2013) point out that social challenges like population aging or shrinkage,
brownfields, public safety and social inclusion are not ‘owned’ by a single party. Rather,
they are rather collective issues affecting multiple stakeholders. Tackling such issues
thereby requires multiple strategies and collaborative governance. Accordingly, a key
challenge for municipalities in the smart city 2.0 involves moving beyond historically
expected roles of single-handedly managing city services and infrastructure to a mediating
role that fosters the creative capacity of diverse societal players sharing a common agenda
to improve local conditions (Meijer and Bolívar 2016; Eskelinen et al. 2015; Almirall et al.
2016). Furthermore, the smart city 2.0 paradigm is equally marked by a shift towards
endogenous development strategies (Nomura 2017a). Instead of single-mindedly looking to
import best-practices and solutions from elsewhere, a key objective becomes that of
fostering the city’s internal ability to collectively generate solutions to local problems with
endogenous resources and creativity. To this end, building the digital and data literacy of
local residents and professionals through education and training is critical (Carrasco-Sáez
et al. 2017).
3. Methods
3.1 Case selection and data collection
Aizuwakamatsu provides an illustrative example of a smart city with an explicit
commitmentas articulated in project documents and interviews—to tackling localised
social challenges and addressing citizen needs through ICT and data analysis. In addition,
many smart city narratives and activities distinctly embody smart city 2.0 attributes
articulated in the previous section. While these attributes co-exist with economically-
oriented objectives and other more top-down projects involving large corporations,
Aizuwakamatsu stands out nationally as a unique smart city with an explicit resolve to
tackle dire social conditions.
Primary and secondary data was collected from July 2015 to September 2017. The scope of
‘smart city’ initiatives examined covers those involving experimentation with ICT, data
analysis or digitalisation of municipal services. Analysis is limited to initiatives labelled as
smart cityprojects in promotional documents etc. Secondary data were sourced from
internal project documents, media reports, think tank and scholarly articles and symposium
presentation materials. Primary data were collected via three field visits, 12 semi-structured
interviews (involving 17 respondents) and participation in a symposium session. These
sources are described in Table 2 in the Appendix and also referenced throughout the
findings. Interviews were conducted in person (except for two via Skype) and in Japanese,
each lasting around 60 to 80 minutes. To cover a variety of perspectives, these targeted
smart city planners and project implementers in the municipality, business firms and local
university. All interviews were recorded and subsequently audited several times before
compiling notes and transcribing important themes and quotations. Analysis of all data was
guided by the framework outlaid in Section 2.
3.2 Case overview
Aizuwakamatsu lies 250 kilometres north of Tokyo and is home to some 120,000 residents.
Inland and surrounded by mountains, the city escaped tsunami damage from the 2011
Great Eastern Japan Earthquake but received moderate levels of radiation fallout from the
Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Aizuwakamatsu is troubled by dire social
challenges. Radiation exposure damaged the city’s attractiveness as a living destination
compounding pre-existing issues of populating shrinkage and aging. Japan is the world’s
most rapidly aging society. But Aizuwakamatsu outpaces the national average, with
currently 30% of residents aged over 65. The city has lost about 10% of its population since
1995 as semi-conductor factories closed or moved offshore due to globalisation while future
growth prospects are limited since around 80% of graduates attending the local University
of Aizu (henceforth ‘the university’—a dedicated and nationally renowned IT institution)
migrate towards Tokyo for employment. The City of Aizuwakamatsu (henceforth ‘the
municipality’) has fixed an optimistic vision of stabilising population decline to 100,000 in
the later stages of this century. Yet without a drastic change of socio-economic conditions,
populating decline will challenge the municipality’s ability to maintain decent public
services due to shrinking fiscal income.
With this predicament came opportunity. A few months after Great Eastern Japan
Earthquake and Fukushima disaster, Accenture (henceforth the consulting firm’) took a
keen interest in Aizuwakamatsu to acquire expertise in building a new smart city model for
responding to localised social problems of national significance. After forging an agreement
with the municipality and university and securing funding they erected a permanent base in
the city. Since then, numerous national or multi-national firms (e.g. Fujitsu, NEC, Intel,
Japan Post, supermarket chain Lion d’Or and insurance companies etc.), local ventures and
countless stakeholders from government, industry, academia and the citizenry have united
around the collective vision of a smart city socio-economic revitalisation. Stakeholders
implement both projects directly conceived within the city’s smart city steering group and
projects conceived outside this framework to complement the broader agenda of smart
urbanisation and tackling societal challenges through ICT and data analysis.
Aizuwakamatsu Smart City enjoys generous national funding. Since 2011, some 3 billion
yen (or roughly $US 28.14 million at time of writing) has been secured from national
government agencies (e.g. Reconstruction Agency; Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry;
Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications etc.), the municipality and private firms.
Aizuwakamatsu’s smart city agenda is highly comprehensive. Projects involve integration
of ICT, data generation/analysis and digitalisation of public services into fields such as
economic development, preventative health and longevity promotion, public planning and
administration, agriculture, tourism and energy. Aizuwakamatsu’s portfolio of smart city
projects contains commonly observed agendas like smart grids, digital sensor deployment
for generating data from resident lifestyles, and creation of new high-tech businesses.
However, these exist alongside a quintessential and human-focused objective of
purposefully utilising smartness as a tool for tackling cross-cutting social issues such as
deterioration of public services, socio-economic vitality, population aging, improvement of
living conditions and resident wellbeing.
4. Smart city 2.0 initiatives in Aizuwakamatsu
The following sections apply the analytical framework from Table 1 to understand the
peculiarities of the Aizuwakamatsu smart city with most relevance to the smart city 2.0
paradigm. Equal attention is given to problem framings, visions and expectations, and
representative examples of specific on the ground initiatives.
4.1 Focus of vision: People, governance and policy
A distinctly people-centric narrative permeates Aizuwakamatsu’s smart urbanisation. This
promises residents that smart city benefits will be widely shared to increase convenience in
daily life and, in the words of the Mayor, a town planning strategy to ensure peace of mind
and comfortable lifestyles(Murai 2016: 28). While such promises mirror people-serving
but empty rhetoric thrown around in other smart cities, some interesting initiatives have
emerged that focus explicitly on citizen needs and showcasing how ICT can provide
benefits to residents—inclusive of the elderly and physically challenged.
One example regularly drawn on by smart city promoters nationally touting the people-
serving aspects of Aizuwakamatsu’s transition to a smart city (symposium 1) is a
nationwide first e-reception initiative at the municipality. This aims to provide peace of
mind and increased convenience to residents who might experience physical difficulties
filling in paper work and then queuing to request formal documents such as, for example, a
family registrar. Targeted residents include the elderly, physically challenged and hand-tied
parents bringing in infants or children. Visitors to the Resident Services section are greeted by
an iPad equipped employee who offers the opportunity to circumvent complicated paper
work and waiting times. Visitors are invited to sit down while the municipality employee
checks their identity after multiple oral questions and then lodges the application on their
behalf via a touch-screen menu. For the resident, the only action required is a simple on-
screen signature. As expected, this initiative involving simple existing technologies has
succeeded in reducing waiting times and a means of dodging anxiety-creating paperwork
for the elderly or physically challenged. Beyond this, a municipality IT expert pointed to
unexpected benefits from a communication perspective (interview 5) after introduction of
this initiative. Running counter to the human-removing and mechanistic connotations that
e-reception initiatives might carry in other settings, this system promotes enriched
interactions and conversations by sending the user on-screen prompts (hidden to the
resident) based on the resident’s personal information. For example, an employee serving a
mother with young children might be sent a cue to casually mention the presence of a child
health care support service while a resident residing in a particular neighbourhood might be
reminded of an upcoming event like a community festival.
In addition to such people-centric applications of ICT, Aizuwakamatsu’s smart city also
promotes a more ambitious rhetoric of revolutionising town planning through data analysis
and visualisations. This too places citizens at its core, promising that data-driven public
planning will be more effectively able to identify and tackle societal problems while
providing richer opportunities for citizen input into policymaking (Ito and Meguro 2017).
Data visualisations that marry population and spatial data and then illustrate this on maps
are central to this strategy. Multiple interviews with municipality planners (interview 5, 6,
9) and documents (Ito and Meguro 2017) emphasised how traditional policymaking was
guided not by data and evidence, but by ‘experience, instinct and courage. One roads
planner related that until now various paper maps documenting everything from
community rubbish collection stations to water supply systems were troublesome to pull
out and update due to their bulky and fragile nature (interview 6). They stated that town
planning for areas like bus route allocation or fire hydrant installation was a clumsy,
manual affair guided by analogue tools like compasses, rulers and instinct. Moreover, this
archaic town planning and mapping system was unlinked to various electronic datasets
scattered across different departments in the municipality. Any attempt to link spatial data
with population demographics thereby required viewing a spreadsheet whilst juggling a
large paper map. This posed a significant hurdle to any policymaker attempt to formulate a
mental picture of basic socio-physical conditions in the city like the number of abandoned
houses, characteristics of residents nearby a particular bus stop or the location of the highly
aged, handicapped and socially vulnerable. The transition to a smart city is providing
municipality planners an important opportunity to transcend this analogue paradigm and
advance evidence-based decision-making using visual data representations to aid
communication with stakeholders (interviews 5, 6). A key strategy enabling this involves
the overhaul of data management procedures in late 2015 to marry resident addresses
(which in Japan often fail to provide a precise geophysical location) to Geospatial
Information Systems (GIS) co-ordinates and various demographic databases.
As a noteworthy initiative, the municipality cooperated with the local bus operator,
residents and community groups to redesign bus routes and timetables during 2016.
Ridership on publically subsidised buses in Aizuwakamatsu has declined heavily for
several decades due to population greying, fewer school-going children and increased
reliance on private automobiles. This has sparked a vicious spiral where bus operators
increase fares and reduce trips or routes to recuperate losses, which further discourages
ridership. As the city’s remaining bus resources dwindle, it is essential to channel these to
the most needy communities. To identify areas with potential high demand, the
municipality analysed population data for residents surrounding the city’s roughly 200 bus
stops. A ‘hypothesis’ was established that demand would be greatest in areas with high
ratios of elderly and school-goers (interview 5). Municipality workers then cooperated with
community groups and the bus operator to verify this hypothesis and produce finer-grained
understanding by examining actual data on bus ridership and conducting door-to-door
surveys to determine the desired travel destinations of bus users. Whilst hardly a cutting-
edge case of ‘big data’, this novel digital planning approach in Aizuwakamatsu has allowed
the municipality to collaboratively reform its entire bus network in accord with actual
citizen needs.
Scholars have raised concerns that data-driven policymaking risks fostering a mechanical
and technocratic understanding of complex social problems (White 2016; Kitchin 2014).
Yet no evidence of such concerns was detected in interviews with Aizuwakamatsu’s
municipality workers. They were highly optimistic of the integration of ICT and data
analysis into city planning yet, at the same time, cognisant of the limitations of data-
informed mental pictures of social problems (interviews 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). They emphasised the
need for the above strategy of building initial understanding and a ‘hypothesis’ from large
datasets and then verifying and enriching this with finer-grained information and human-
to-human interaction. Additionally, municipality planners emphasised how the marriage of
demographic and spatial data into map-based visualisations has improved collaborative
town planning with residents. As the following municipality IT expert states with regard to
the bus route optimisation, this data-informed approach provides as a common language
that bridges a historical divide between the municipality and residents:
If there is no map when explaining our objectives to stakeholders, everybody sleeps as
there is no connection. But once we pull out a (data impregnated) map and explain what
we are trying to do, everybody is like; “Hey, that’s So-and-so’s house!” It’s as if they can
see that person’s face in the data and so the discussion comes to life. So I would say that
data visualisation is even more important than analysis (interview 5).
Moreover, GIS-based spatial depictions of residential data are also increasing the ability of
the community to self-organize and respond to potential problems. For example,
community groups now collaborate with the municipality to use maps laden with
demographic data to formulate emergency evacuation plans and prioritise assistance
strategies for the needy. Again, while scholars have voiced concerns that big data-based city
planning risks removing the individual human from the eyes of policy makers (Kitchin
2014), to the contrary, municipality workers in Aizuwakamatsu emphasise how spatial
representations of data are providing their policymaking with an unprecedented ‘micro-
perspective where we can perceive residents as real people’ (Ito and Meguro 2017).
The above examples provide evidence of a smart urbanisation strategy embodying an
important characteristic of the smart city 2.0; a resolve to use ICT and data analysis as a
means of aligning governance strategies with resident needs and improving collaborative
public planning. However, this narrative is accompanied by a economic framing of the
citizen as human capital. For example, a competing rhetoricpromoted especially by the
consulting firm and several quarters in the municipality—promises to reverse chronic
economic and depopulation woes through a data-fuelled renaissance. This aims to increase
IT-savvy university graduate retention in the city by fostering high-paid employment in
new ventures or relocated firms ‘offering the same salaries and conditions as Tokyo
(interview 3). To this end, a core strategy involves a 10-year joint teaching collaboration at
the university between the consulting firm, the university and municipality IT technicians
to foster a data scientist workforce. In this narrative, the social problem of population
decline is framed principally as an economic problem that is solvable through new lucrative
employment opportunities. This competing narrative thus drives economically-oriented
smart city strategies (e.g. IT cluster creation and big data generation for spurring a new
data-driven economy) that co-exist with other human-centric initiatives.
4.2 Role of citizens: Solution co-creators
Beyond simply placing citizen needs at the centre of various initiatives, Aizuwakamatsu
has fixed an explicit resolve to involve residents in the identification of social issues and the
co-creation of relevant solutions.
This ambition is apparent in the vision—shared by the municipality, industry and diverse
actorsof a networked society that ‘solves its own problems’. Concretely, this involves
breaking away from a pyramid-like society that posits the municipality as the central
provider of public services and administration towards a society conceptualised as a
decentralised network. Government, citizens and businesses are framed as tightly
interlinked nodes that support each other to mutually generate solutions to social problems
and enhance social capital. The consulting firm also pushes this vision. They argue that
achieving a sustainable society in Aizuwakamatsu requires the community to seek firstly to
help itself, and only when necessary, depend on public support as a safety net (interview 3).
Such narratives in smart cities have been dismissed as neoliberal responses to fiscal
austerity (White 2016). Yet as a municipality planner explains below, this vision of a
networked society that solves its own problems is propelled by concerns over
Aizuwakamatsu’s long-term survival vis-à-vis the shrinking population:
Considering the depopulation we are facing, it will probably be impossible to maintain public
services at current levels. For our city to survive, we have to build a society where each
individual actively plays a role. To that end, we need citizens able to comprehend the current
conditions of our city, and based on these, work out what needs to be done. But without
publishing data, that’s impossible (interview 9).
Moreover, this statement demonstrates the view that effective decision-making and
collaborative action to overcome social quandaries can only occur if citizens obtain a data-
informed mental picture of the current conditions in the city. Since spatial data is a critical
tool for facilitating this picture building, the municipality actively provides data-
impregnated maps to citizen volunteer groups to facilitate self-organisation of
neighbourhoods. For example, residents are collaborating with the municipality to improve
evacuation plans for floods or earthquakes based on the location of the most needy etc.
Interestingly, an interviewed university researcher and municipality planner (interviews 8,
9) underlined how the notion of a ‘citizenin Aizuwakamatsu is not limited to traditional
conceptions’ such as non-profit organisations or volunteers. Rather, this conception
encompasses any individual from government, industry, academia and the traditional civic
sector working in a collaborative role to tackle social issueseither inside or outside
normal job functions. Since professional skills, organisational resources and prolonged
commitments are required for effective societal problem solving, the ambition to achieve a
collaborative, problem-solving society driven by citizen participation does not aspire for a
utopian society powered by ‘volunteers’.
In pursuit of this goal, in early 2016 the municipality formally incorporated the notion of
open by defaultinto town planning policy. Data is framed as a public good, with any
usage permitted provided that due acknowledgement is made. To date, 138 municipality
datasets have been generated and published via a purpose-built website called Data for
Citizens
1
. With individual anonymity assured, many datasets integrate spatial information
with population demographics or equipment inventories like fire hydrants, emergency
response equipment, public welfare facilities etc. The website also includes a function for
citizens to requests certain data sets or suggest apps they would like created from existing
data.
Cognisant that simply disclosing public data does not automatically translate into civic-led
smart city innovation, initiatives have emerged to promote meaningful uptake of data sets.
An initial ad-hoc strategy for squeezing the creative juices of local talents involved a contest
where citizens competed to formulate the most interesting or useful app. Since this strategy
holds most relevance to the IT-savvy, contests included a segment where non-specialists
could simply formulate a vision of an app they would like to see developed. One illustrative
app developed through this process originated from a citizen’s suggestion for a
communication tool to digitally link schools and parents. This overcomes the snail pace,
hit-and-miss nature of paper-based communications that rely on children to play a
messenger pigeon role between parents and teachers, often resulting in lost or delayed
delivery of notices and messages (interview 10).
1
See URL https://www.data4citizen.jp
As a more sustained strategy to foster citizen-led innovation, a local professional network
of budding data scientists, app developers and social problem-solvers has emerged under
the banner Code for Aizu (which twists the pronunciation of ‘code’ in Japanese to infer
‘action’ for Aizu). Citizens in this self-organising community consist of IT-literate
university faculty and students, industry techies, consultants, entrepreneurs and
municipality workers. Non-specialists also frequent Code for Aizu meetings, pitching their
organisation’s needs in hope of receiving support from problem-solvers with technical
skills. Creative activities are cross-cutting, with many actors from larger smart city vendors
and corporations (including the consulting firm) also participating. This community thus
provides a platform for expertise from larger corporation-led projects to mingle and
synergise with civic-led, bottom-up activities (interviews 8, 9).
As an example of citizen-led co-creation achieved through Code for Aizu, smart city
promoters often tout an app developed to mitigate a unique local problem conveyed by the
fire brigade (symposium 1). During snowy winter months, although local firefighters in
Aizuwakamatsu know by heart locations of fire extinguishers even when buried in snow,
supporting fire brigades from out of town lack such knowledge. Precious time is thus often
wasted when searching for them in times of need (interview 6). The local municipality had
been requested a map of fire hydrant locations but lacked the data and resources to provide
this. After this problem was raised by a local firefighter attending a Code for Aizu meeting,
a citizen team formed to respond to this problem. They extracted the GIS location of fire
hydrants from municipality water irrigation maps then integrated these into a street map
tool. The subsequently developed app tool allows firefighters to locate the closest hydrant
from their current position or entered street address and displays results both on a map and
in a list format.
2
A Google street view mode also allows visual confirmation of the precise
location for each.
While this example paints a promising potential for citizens to collaboratively solve a
problem on behalf of the resource-stricken municipality, officials stressed that when
publically releasing datasets they avoid prescribing a certain usage or set of needs in the
2
http://aizu.io/app_list/hydrant/
hope of coaxing a free fix to a specific community issue (interviews 5, 9). They underlined
their strategic approach of allowing citizens to choose their own way of using data, since
this also carries the possibility of generating unexpected discoveries that we would never
even thought of’ (interview 9). They also underscored that the volume of publically
available datasets was beginning to overshadow the availability of local data analysis skills.
To correct this imbalance between supply and demand, they pointed to the importance of
the aforementioned data analytics course at the university for fostering data scientists
(interview 4).
4.3 Objective of technology and experimentation: a tool to solve endogenous social
problems
As explained above, smart city actors from various societal sectors are actively
experimenting with app development as a tool for tackling an array of endogenous
challenges. Beyond app development, the municipality is also collaborating long-term with
residents to co-create ICT systems and collectively deliver public services in response to
socio-economic challenges. An illustrative example is the Rural Living Support System,
launched in late 2017 (Trencher and Karvonen 2018). This serves the needs of an
underserved and mostly elderly population living in a rural district at the city’s edge,
Minato-machi, by bundling together on-demand transport and a tailored digital
information service into a digital package of relatively unsophisticated, existing
technologies. This initiative demonstrates how unique societal conditions and needs can
shape the selection of smart technologies, and the social objectives these are expected to
address.
The Rural Living Support System was formed in response to severely stressed social
conditions. 40% of Minato-machi’s residents are aged over 65 (compared to 30% for
Aizuwakamatsu) and depopulation is occurring three times faster than the city average.
Quality of life for the area’s elderly population is heavily compromised by poor connections
to public transport and stagnant flows of local information owing to an underdeveloped fibre-
optic Internet infrastructure. Interviewed residents driving the initiative explained that only
some 20% of households are connected to the area’s slow and choppy ASDL cabling
(interview 12). Consequently, diffusion of community information is limited to infrequently
distributed print media like local newspapers or town bulletins. Residents explained that
people in one village often have no idea what is happening in another’ with respect to social
activities such as festivals and community events’ and underscored that this was undermining
the maintenance of social bonds across villages (interview 11). Additionally, bus services are
confined to one main road route a handful of times per day. Since most residents live some
three to four kilometres from the nearest bus stop, many elderly citizens unable to drive live
cut off from the outside worldnot only in a physical sense but also in social sense. On one
the hand, underdeveloped transport services hamper access to essential infrastructure like
supermarkets, banks, hospitals and community centres while on the other hand a lack of
community-level information reduces opportunities to learn about cultural or social events
in neighbouring villages. Inconvenience issues aside, this situation also poses a significant
public welfare risk. Few opportunities for person-to-person mingling and socialisation causes
many elderly to fare alone out of the supportive eye of fellow residents. By supplying a digital
living support package to this area, smart technologies are thus embedded with multiple
social objectives such as the provision of transport and socialisation opportunities, the
reinvigoration of community social bonds, and the bolstering of health conditioning
monitoring for the elderly.
Minato-machi’s unique physical and social circumstances have heavily shaped the selection
of technologies. Instead of delivering the package through wireless devices like smart
phones or tablets, organisers opted for a low-tech retrofitting approach. This was to avoid
creating cost hurdles and usage difficulties for an elderly population unaccustomed to the
Internet and ICT devices (interview 7, 11). The initiative involves a free-of-charge
installation of an Internet modem (and ASDL cabling if necessary) to convert existing
household televisions into a smart TV with a purpose-built on-screen menu. From this,
residents can access three essential services: 1) on-demand transport, 2) local information
and 3) health condition monitoring. A pair of EV vans fulfil the on-demand transport
component and overcome running costs by drawing on freely-supplied local wind energy.
These were further tailored by adding GPS sensors so residents can verify their current road
position in order to minimise waiting times outside in snowy or rainy weather.
Residents play a central role in designing and implementing the initiative, working as
innovation partners alongside the municipality. While the municipality drove the original
conception and won national funding to cover start-up costs over three years (some 57.8
million yen [or $US 539,000 at time of writing] from the Prime Minister of Japan and his
Cabinet’s Regional Revitalisation Promotion Funds), residents are framed as the owners of
the system. This has afforded them significant authority in shaping the final solution and
assuming it’s long-term implementation. A municipality planner emphasised that the co-
design system has facilitated the integration of ‘ideas that were only possible because of
resident participation’ (interview 11). For example, images from live road cameras were
added to the vendor’s (Fujitsu) generic on-screen menu to allow users to assess the
suitability of local road conditions for driving during snowy and icy winter months. A
streaming function for daily news feeds was also integrated. Created by residents, these
feature sound recordings, images and text to deliver summaries of local community events
or seasonal changes to scenery that housebound elderly might not experience. The on-
screen menu also links to the local Minato-machi website, thereby increasing its presence
and community building potential. Residents emphasised how this community information
is ‘made by residents for residents’, which assures a level of pertinence to Minato-machi
that the municipality could never achieve alone (interview 12). Finally, the system
advances a public health agenda by prompting elderly users upon start-up to select a button
to indicate their current health condition. In the case where a resident selected ‘I don’t feel
well today’, a prompt is sent to a local community member, who may then telephone or
visit directly the person concerned. In this way, the introduction of ICT in Minato-machi
serves a further purpose of bolstering existing community welfare networks for the elderly.
The Rural Living Support System demonstrates how a smart solution can advance social
equity by ensuring the benefits of an ICT society are passed on to the needy and
underserved in a rural area, and by the same token, empower the community to both shape
the solution and assume ownership. Moreover, it also demonstrates how a smart solution
that exploits relatively mundane, existing technologies can be co-designed with affected
residents and tailored to tackle a wide array of endogenous social challenges. As the
following statement from a resident conveys, the ethos of digital experimentation in
Aizuwakamatsu has provided residents and the municipality with a new paradigm to tackle
a suite of long-outstanding social agendas: ‘Its not as if ICT came along first or that we are
doing this because of ICT. In terms of process, we have been collaboratively working on
community revitalisation issues for a while and have recently chosen ICT as a tool for that’
(interview 12, respondent 2). This statement highlights an important sequence of events for
effectively utilising smart technologies as tools for serving specific local needs. That is, local
needs in Minato-machi had been pre-defined through a collaborative community
governance framework well before this initiative and the selection of required strategies and
appropriate technologies only came after this.
The above-described cases of app development and the Rural Living Support System are
flagship examples of how endogenous needs and circumstances can drive smart city
innovation. Yet Aizuwakamatsu’s smart city narrative is punctuated by parallel objectives
to demonstrate how digital technologies can be used to solve social challenges of national
significance. Reflecting this ambition, the consulting firm commented: ‘The number one
reason we are pursuing a smart city is naturally to try and help solve all of Japan’s (social)
issues, so we have integrated all of the nation’s challenges into our plan’ (interview 3). Like
the above example, significant funding from the national government supports many smart
city projects in Aizuwakamatsu. National interests have thereby heavily shaped the smart
city agenda and particularly the explicit government expectations that ICT experimentation
leads to the generation of ready-to-go exportable solutions for other regions facing similar
problems. Cognisant of this need, a core reason that Aizuwakamatsu was selected by the
consulting firm as the site for its smart city agenda was the convenient concentration of all
the nation’s social woes in one locality (interview 3). So while highly endogenous local
circumstances prompt the creation of unique digital solutions, these are often underpinned
with government and corporate expectations to perform an additional function as a
national showcase for other regions battling similar woes (interview 11).
4.4 Approach: Towards decentralised and endogenous smart development
Smart city activities in Aizuwakamatsu are wide-reaching and decentralised. As the
following statement by a municipality IT expert conveys, the smart city paradigm has
widely permeated urban development, now providing an overarching ethos that guides
diverse activities and actor communities:
In the Aizuwakamatsu smart city, our scope is extremely broad. It’s as though we have
incorporated smartness into community development itself. So our approach is different
to say a smart grid, and we are experimenting with lots of approaches in lots of different
areas’ (interview 9).
With smart city logic integrated into community planning itself, strategies involving ICT
devices, digital governance and data analysis are visible in diverse social affairs ranging
from preventative health, agriculture, education, economic development to public policy
formulation and community planning. Since no single actor possesses the necessary
expertise to tackle all such areas, Aizuwakamatsu’s comprehensive agenda requires the
participation of diverse actors, which then further drives the decentralisation of smart city
related activity. Actors range from, on one hand, large national players like the consulting
firm, smart technology vendors and national government funders (whose involvement
prompts top-down approaches) to, on the other hand, local players like the municipality,
the university and IT start-ups, citizens and community organisations (whose involvement
prompts bottom-up approaches). The consulting firm, municipality and university
undoubtedly hold a privileged role as smart city protagonists due to an official
collaboration formalised into a Memorandum of Understanding and several federally
funded projects. However, the breadth and diversity of smart city agendas and participants
challenge the authority of this triple-helix and its ability to function as the principle
representative of Aizuwakamatsu’s smart city. Interestingly, within Aizuwakamatsu’s
community of so-called ‘smart city’ initiatives and actors lie various historical efforts to
promote ICT and digitalisation in municipality activities that pre-date the emergence of the
smart city agenda in 2011. Yet as a municipality IT expert shared, IT-savvy city planners
will sometimes conveniently stress ‘we are doing this as part of the smart city’ to overcome
resistance to novel digital ideas aimed at optimising city governance (interview 5). In
parallel, smart city promoters from Aizuwakamatsu willingly draw upon these initiatives
during their national tours where they proudly tout the people-centric and policy enhancing
aspects of the smart city (symposium 1). In this way, smart city promoters conveniently
throw into their smart city basket an array of ICT and data analysis activities embodying
the ideal of a smart city while the veterans of municipality digitalisation efforts adopt the
narrative and identity of the smart city to advance their agenda. This eco-system drives
decentralisation by expanding the scope and volume of Aizuwakamatsu’s smart
urbanisation activities, blurring boundaries between official smart cityprojects and smart
city inspired or related initiatives.
As a consequence of this diverse, decentralised set of smart city relevant activities and
actors, contrasting yet complementing visions and objectives characterise the
Aizuwakamatsu smart city. For example, the narrative shared by the consulting firm and
business-oriented sectors of the municipality is dominated by economic aspirations. While
framing ICT and data analysis as powerful tools for tackling local social issues of national
relevance (interviews 1, 2, 3, 4, 10), this narrative paints a future of a thriving data-driven
economy where local and national firms alike mine and generate income from copious
volumes of data generated supplied by the municipality, citizen lifestyles and community
organisations such as hospitals etc. This framing is particularly salient in the area of health
care. Several experiments with personal ICT devices are collecting vital health indicator
data (e.g. heart rate, eating/sleeping/exercise habits etc.) and marrying this with patient
medical records housed by medical institutions. While these ‘citizens as sensors’ type
efforts target the fundamentally social issue of resident health and longevity,
Aizuwakamatsu’s smart health agenda is underpinned by explicit economic aspirations to
emulate the success of the Medicon Valley health innovation cluster in Denmark and
Sweden (interview 3). This narrative places a distinct emphasis on the economic function
of citizens, lifestyle data and a new generation of data analytics specialists (trained by the
university and consulting firm) to assume highly-remunerated employment in a thriving
local IT industry.
Yet this imaginary is challenged by a more people-centric picture painted by other
municipality departments, university researchers and the local civic-tech scene (interviews
5, 8, 9) (Ito and Meguro 2017). Here, economic benefits are secondary. Primary emphasis
is given to the potential of smart technologies and data analysis to mitigate various social
quandaries, to advance social equity by widely sharing benefits with citizens and improving
municipality services, and also, to optimise public policy and community planning through
data visualisation and evidence-based decision making. In parallel, the citizen is framed as
a central change agent in the smart city transition. This interpretation of the smart city
pushes an agenda of bottom-up and people-driven innovation in response to local societal
and business challenges. This said, interviews revealed that Aizuwakamatsu’s civic-tech
community (e.g. Code for Aizu) places special emphasis on corporate technical expertise
and business savvy when carrying out social problem solving (interview 8, 9). The need for
business expertise allows this competing people-centric vision to co-exist comfortably with
the smart city’s more economically oriented imaginaries. This all demands an
understanding of Aizuwakamatsu’s smart city as a decentralised eco-system where both
top-down and bottom-up initiatives and highly contrasting agendas and motivations co-
exist and interact.
Finally, while Aizuwakamatsu’s smart city draws on expertise from national/multi-
national firms, the city’s transition to smartness is equally pursued through endogenous
development and by fostering internal resources and capacities (Nomura 2017a). This is
visible in multiple areas. Firstly, smart city activities are often spearheaded by internal
resources such as municipality and university IT experts rather than imported specialists.
Secondly, the aforementioned guiding narrative of a city able to ‘solve its own problems’
explicitly posits Aizuwakamatsu’s citizens as central change agents in the smart city
transition. Finally, the endogenous development objective is also visible in the
aforementioned strategy of fostering data scientists via a joint industry-municipality-
university education program on data analytics at the local university. Graduates are
expected to play a central role in the smart city transition by assuming data analysis related
employment with local or newly relocated IT companies (interviews 1, 2, 3, 4). As
explained earlier, these educational efforts tackle a widely perceived barrier to achieving a
data-driven society—a deficit of local human resources with data analytics expertise for
analysing the city’s growing data piles (interview 4, 9). The presence of a local IT-
specialised university and the associated historical culture of digital experimentation
(which may lack in other smart cities) is therefore a core enabling factor for endogenous
capacity building.
5. Towards the smart city 2.0
This study set out to increase understanding into how smart cities can be framed and
implemented as a tool for tackling social issues and addressing citizen needs. Scholars have
pointed to this theoretical potential (Goodspeed 2015) but failed to produce concrete
empirical evidence of such a strategy in action. My approach was to firstly examine the
theoretical characteristics of the second-generation or so-called smart city 2.0 (framed as a
decentralised, people-centric approach where smart technologies are employed as tools to
tackle social problems, serve citizen needs, enhance policy and governance and foster
citizen participation) relative to the heavily critiqued first-generation smart city 1.0
paradigm (framed as a techno-economically oriented and centralised approach focused on
diffusing smart technologies for corporate and economic interests). The empirics then set
out to verify how smart city 2.0 attributes actually fared on the ground in a smart city with
an explicit people-centric commitment to tackling social quandaries and improving public
service delivery through ICT and data analysis. This study offers an alternative vision of
the smart city in light of recent critiques concerning the first-generation’s failure to deliver
on societal and citizen serving agendas (Stollmann et al. 2016; Hollands 2015; Karvonen et
al. in press; McFarlane and Söderström 2017) and contributes to a broader need in
literature for further understanding into how differing interpretations of smart cities are
being pursued in differing geographical contexts. The empirical approach thereby
complements other theoretical frameworks in literature that explore contrasting
interpretations, manifestations and evolutions of the smart city (Cardullo and Kitchin 2018;
Calzada and Cobo 2015).
Convincing evidence was found to demonstrate how social objectives formed in response
to endogenous social challenges and citizen needs can drive smart innovation. This was
mostly apparent on two fronts: app development and people-centred applications of ICT.
On the former, an impressive portfolio has emerged in Aizuwakamatsu of app tools
collaboratively conceived and designed by citizens, the municipality and local IT firms.
These address diverse social challenges and citizen needs ranging from the inability of
firefighters to locate snow buried fire hydrants during winter months to frustrations with
the snail pace and hit-and-miss nature of print-based communication between schools and
parents that relies on using small children as messenger pigeons. Beyond app development,
social problem solving also involves the needs-driven adoption of relatively unsophisticated
smart technologies. Illustrative examples include the municipality’s e-reception initiative
implemented in the goal of reducing paperwork related anxieties and inconveniences for
the elderly or physically challenged and the low-tech retrofitting approach of the Rural
Living Support System to provide personalised transport services, real-time community
information and health condition monitoring to the elderly living in an underserved rural
area. Tailoring existing technologies and using these as ‘new instruments’ to respond to
endogenous societal needs demonstrates a unique approach in the smart city 2.0. This
contrasts to the widely critiqued push-approach of privileging the diffusion of cutting-edge
technologies without due reflection on the public ends these might serve (Glasmeier and
Nebiolo 2016; Crowley et al. 2016; McFarlane and Söderström 2017). This argued, no
matter how benign the objective, all technologies have limitations when tackling messy
social quandaries. Social capital such as local knowledge and the capacity of residents to
learn and improve their own lives and neighbourhood conditions is therefore a crucial
complementary tool for the smart city 2.0 (McFarlane and Söderström 2017).
The desire to share smart city benefits with a wide or underserved population also
punctuates multiple smart city initiatives in Aizuwakamatsu; most particularly in the Rural
Living Support System. This seeks to bring the benefits of ICTtypically associated with
privileged urban environments—to a rural setting at the fringes of today’s digital society.
This evidence mitigates concerns that smart cities cannot deliver on advancing social equity
(Glasmeier and Christopherson 2015; March in press). This same example also
demonstrates how non-technically minded residents are actively collaborating with other
societal actors to formulate ICT solutions to community challenges and collaboratively
deliver public services. The long-term involvement of residents and their authority as
‘owners of the system’ suggests a more long-term and meaningful route for citizen
engagement than once-off hackathons or app-development initiatives (Baccarne et al.
2014). This said, non-profit and citizen-driven smart city initiatives serving a public
purpose must grapple with the eventual need to find business sustainability after public
funding exhaustion (Trencher and Karvonen 2018).
Urban decision-making and policy formulation is another area where smartness provides a
new instrument for tackling societal challenges. Multiple interviewees emphasised that the
municipality’s simple ‘data visualisation’ tactic of marrying spatial information with
demographic data has revolutionised decision-making and collaborative community
planning (interviews 5, 6, 7, 9). Digitalised decision-making is reshaping everything from
bus route and emergency evacuation planning to abandoned property management,
allowing city planners to break free from the hit-and-miss world of policy formulation
through ‘experience, instinct and courage.’ Importantly, data is not framed as a means to
an end. Municipality planners explicitly refer to data visualisation as a mere toolfor
enhancing policy making through data-informed problem identification, testing
hypothesises and establishing a common language with community stakeholders (interview
5). Other municipality workers emphasised how data-driven planning also serves a human-
centric purpose of building the capacity of the community to help itself by fostering the
ability to ‘see’ town problems and better choose appropriate courses of action (interview 3,
9). They also claim the marriage of spatial and demographic data provides policymaking
with a new micro-perspective whereby the town population is broken down into the more
manageable scale of individual residents and communities, thus turning population data
into ‘real people’ (interview 5). Such smart governance benefits and positive experiences
offer an alternative view to concerns that data-driven urban planning leads to techno-
centric, mechanical and neoliberal logic that reduces all complex urban problems to
simplified data representations (Söderström et al. 2014; Kitchin et al. 2015). Moreover,
these relatively low-tech attempts to increase the effectiveness of city management and
tailor public services to better meet resident needs do not correspond well with
technological utopia-like conceptions of sensor-laden and automated smart cities. Yet in
Aizuwakamatsu unsophisticated technological activities such as data-informed urban
planning and introductions of simple digital devices into public services are widely labelled
by protagonists as “smart” and part and parcel of the transition to a smart city. This offers
further evidence of the interpretative flexibility of the ‘smart cityconcept and how the type
of objectives, technologies and approaches that merit a smart label is entirely dependent on
unique geographical and socio-cultural contexts (Kong and Woods 2018; Karvonen et al.
in press).
Beyond the people-centric commitment to using smart technologies and data analysis to
tackle social challenges, address resident needs and enhance public services,
Aizuwakamatsu’s case exhibits other smart city 2.0 characteristics advocated by scholars.
For example, it pursues endogenous development, decentralised digital innovation
activities and explicitly frames citizens as active co-creators in the problem-solving process.
Yet in parallel, a distinctly economic approach to tackling population and social decline
permeates the smart city. In this competing discourse, more jobs and higher incomes are
framed as the principle solution to Aizuwakamatsu’s chronic social quandaries.
Furthermore, since the city’s problems are both social and economic at the same time, the
social verses economic narratives are tightly interlinked. This makes it difficult and
unhelpful to examine so-called ‘social’ issues like population aging and loss of community
vitality in isolation from the city’s economic situation. Moreover, this case suggests much
ambiguity around the conception of a ‘citizen-centric’ smart city. Although citizen
participation is widely normalised in smart city literature (Joss et al. 2017; Cardullo and
Kitchin 2018), insufficient attention is given to the difficulty of defining a ‘citizen’. As
discussed earlier, interviewees from the municipality and university emphasised how
citizen-led innovation involving app development, open data and IT solution development
is driven by business-savvy and skilled corporate professionals working both inside and
outside regular job duties (interviews 8, 9). These interviewees even described that national
funding privileges techno-centric and top-down projects by large corporations. They further
explained that these same corporate stakeholders regularly interact with the grassroots
innovation scene, with considerable knowledge exchange and synergies occurring across
the civic and corporate spheres. As such, so-called ‘citizens’ in Aizuwakamatsu’s bottom-
up IT innovation scene do not mirror traditional conceptions of the citizen such as
volunteers and non-profit organisations.
From this perspective, the polarised discussion around the desirability of a smart city 1.0
verses 2.0 loses relevance and utility. The case of Aizuwakamatsu points to the need for a
renewed appreciation of messy, hybrid approaches and synergies that can occur across
contrasting narratives, objectives and projects. Moreover, it beckons for acknowledgement
that hybrid smart cities juggling both economic and social objectives with top-down and
bottom-up approaches are perhaps unavoidable, realistic and even desirable (Kummitha
and Crutzen 2017; Calzada and Cobo 2015; Capdevila and Zarlenga 2015; March and
Ribera-Fumaz in press). In closing, the author hopes that evidence from this case might
trigger renewed appreciation for the often overlooked potential of ICT and smart urbanism
to advance social agendas and address citizen needs—even in smart city milieus that
simultaneously sport lofty techno-economic aspirations.
Acknowledgements
The author is deeply indebted to the interviewees in Aizuwakamatsu who kindly
cooperated for interviews and data provision. I extend my gratitude also to Andrew
Karvonen for helpful comments on an earlier draft as well as the reviewers and editors for
their constructive criticisms that have improved this manuscript.
Appendix
Interview
Code
Number of
respondents
Date
Sector and (expertise) of interviewee(s)
1
1
5 October 2015
Consulting firm (smart city management)
2
1
5 February 2017
Consulting firm (smart city management)
3
1
19 June 2017
Consulting firm (smart city management)
4
1
19 June 2017
Municipality (health planning)
5
1
7 July 2017
Municipality (IT, GIS and data
integration)
6
1
7 July 2017
Municipality (roads planning)
7
1
7 July 2017
Municipality (town planning)
8
3
8 July 2017
University (grassroots IT innovation)
Municipality (IT and data integration)
9
2
8 July 2017
Municipality (IT and data integration)
10
1
8 July 2017
Local venture (ICT and IoT experiments)
11
1
6 October 2017
Municipality (Rural Living Support
System)
12
3
6 October 2017
Local residents (Rural Living Support
System)
Symposium
Name
Session
Date
Sector
(expertise)
ICT Fair in
Tohoku
2017
A-3 IoT technologies
for societal
development
2017/06/20
National government/municipality
(smart city planning)
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